Healthy and Fast Meals with (almost) No Cooking Required

I’m not going to lie, I have slacked off a little (or a lot!) when it comes to cooking this year. Between school, work, trying new workout classes ;), and trying to get a decent amount of sleep, cooking just hasn’t been a priority. But don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I’m having frozen meals or fast food – it just means my meals are a little more simple and don’t take much time to make.

Whether you are a student like me, a working professional, home taking care of kiddos, or have other responsibilities, time is always the number 1 excuse for not eating healthy, so today I thought I would share my tips and tricks for fast and easy, healthy meals.

1. Cook ahead of time – I typically only turn on my oven and stove one or two times a week. I’ll make some chicken, roast some veggies, brown some ground turkey, and cook some rice or quinoa. From start to finish, it usually takes me no more than an hour. I keep everything in separate containers in the fridge so it’s ready when I get home from a long day at work.

2. Build a meal – Now that you have all the food is cooked and ready to be eaten, all you have to do is put it together. Think of it like an assembly line…add some rice, chicken, broccoli, and sauce to a bowl, pop it in the microwave and voila, dinner is served.

3. Oh, wait – there is no step three 😉 It is so easy there are only two steps! See, no excuses!!

Here is a little cheat sheet for building a healthy meal:

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 10.15.16 PM.png

  • Tricks if you are really short on time:
    Choose canned tuna, buy a pre-baked chicken, or try canned beans which don’t require cooking for your protein sources
  • Use frozen veggies that you can steam in the microwave – no baking or chopping required.

Now that you have the “recipe” to build your own healthy meal, I thought I would share some of my favorites. Some might sound strange, but I promise they are tasty! Also, lots are vegetarian since I was experimenting with being a vegetarian for a month.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 10.36.14 PM

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

No excuses now! What are your favorite meals to build?

Career Confusion

Unfortunately, if your looking for helpful nutrition information, this isn’t the post for you. Instead, it is only an update on my unknown future career plans. But don’t worry, I’ll be dishing up some more advise in my future posts.

I am officially passed the halfway point of my Dietetic Internship! I am currently in my renal (kidney) rotation in a dialysis unit, which is fine…nothing special. I still have critical care, pediatrics, and oncology rotations this semester.

Recently, though, I have been struggling a bit. As I have said before in other posts, I haven’t really loved working in the hospital. I haven’t felt like I make any meaningful connections with patients and most of them don’t seem to care at all about what I am talking to them about, which I totally get – I don’t think that if I were sick in a hospital I would really care about how much salt was in my food or if I was getting enough protein.

I did enjoy my outpatient rotations much more than working in the hospital, but something still wasn’t clicking. I think I almost convinced myself I liked it because that it what I had always pictured myself doing. Do I still see myself doing some nutrition counseling? … Yes, it is definitely something that is still interesting to me, but I am not sure that I can picture myself doing it as a full-time job.

I am very happy I am learning my likes and dislikes now and not later, but you can see why I am confused now. I feel like the college sophomore that realized they didn’t like their major and is trying to figure out what to do. From the time I declared my nutrition major freshman year in undergrad I always saw myself being a Clinical Dietitian, and now I am realizing that is not really the path I want to go down.

Thankfully I have tons of supportive advisors and professors at school that are willing to help me figure out what I want to do. Maybe it is working in industry (for a cool, healthy food company), teaching at local colleges, traveling with an international health organization, working in media or social media, or doing a job that I don’t even know exists — I am exploring my options.

So for now, we will see where the next year takes me. In the mean time, if anyone has any nutrition career suggestions… my ears are open!

Whole Grains

Five weeks (holy cow-I can’t believe it has already been 5 weeks!) of my DI complete and I am finally getting into the swing of things. I have my daily routine down, feel a lot less overwhelmed, and still have time to explore Cleveland and spend a few hours at the grocery store ;).

The highlight of last week was working an outreach table at the outpatient pediatric clinic in the hospital. I spent the day educating patients about the importance of whole grains. I made a poster (which I don’t think I have done since high school), a handout, compiled some recipes, and played a whole grain game with some of the kids. Having quality conversations with some of the parents definitely made me feel like I was making a difference, but playing games with the kids continuously put a smile on my face throughout the day. And even better, not only did I have fun playing with them, they were also able to learn what whole grains were and be introduced to new food items to try! Win-Win!

Since I had the opportunity to teach so many people in the clinic about whole grains, I thought I would share the knowledge here.

Whole grainFirst off…What is a whole grain? You have probably heard of them, but do you really know what they are? A whole grain means that the product contains all three parts of the grain- the germ, endosperm, and bran. White or refined grains only contain the endosperm. The bran and germ are important because they have vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy fats, whereas the endosperm is made mostly of starch.

Whole grains have also been found to prevent stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and constipation. I don’t know about you, but I think those reasons alone are enough to want some whole grains in my everyday meals.

Ok, now that I hopefully have convinced you to eat some whole grains, you have to find them at the store. This can be the tricky part. Lots of packages slap phrases like “100% wheat” and “multi-grain” across the front to pull you in, but these phrases do not mean it is a whole grain. Here’s what you should look for:

  • Check the ingredient list on the box. If a food is a whole grain, the very first word on the ingredient list will be “whole” (ie. Whole wheat flour, whole grain oats, etc.).
  • Words like “brown rice” “bulgur” “quinoa”, “oats” and “wheat berries” listed first in the ingredients also always mean it is a whole grain.
  • Even if the front of the box says “5g of whole grain”, check the ingredients. While it might have some whole grain, if it is not the first ingredient, then the majority of the product is a refined grain.

There are lots of other whole grains including bulgur, millet, farro, barley, amaranth, buckwheat, and rye, which are great for adding to soups and salads or as a side dish. Those sound a little foreign? Try oatmeal or whole grain cereal (like Cheerios) for breakfast. Air-popped popcorn and whole grain crackers (like Wheat Thins) are perfect whole grain snacks. Even using whole grain bread on your lunch sandwich is a step in the right direction.

Making the switch to whole grains can be hard, but small steps can make it easier. A good rule of thumb is the make at least half of the grains you eat each day whole grains. You can also use this as an opportunity to try some new foods!

Here are some pictures from my outreach in the clinic!

What I Learned From Losing My Fitbit

Last week, I had a very traumatic event happen…I lost my Fitbit (okay, maybe traumatic is an exaggeration but I digress). Thankfully, my mom had one that she didn’t use at home and could send to me at school. Still, this left me Fitbit-less for about a week. One day that week, I had the strangest thought while walking to class. I felt like walking wasn’t worth anything because I had nothing to show for it (ie. No big green star at the end of the day when I hit my step goal). I quickly had to shake myself out of that crazy thought. It blew my mind that losing this little piece of technology and not being able to see how many steps I had taken made my walking feel useless.

I did, though, get a good lesson out of this crazy thought of mine: My life is constantly a numbers game: how many steps I take, how many ounces of water I drink, how many calories I eat, how many minutes I exercise for, and the list continues. I can have a few OCD tendencies at times; I like to keep track and make sure everything is neat and organized and I guess counting all these things can bring a little bit of organization to my life. Even if you aren’t someone like me who is obsessed with counting steps, calories, minutes, and ounces, it seems like that is what we are recommended to do. The US Food and Drug Administration recommends we consume about 2.5 cups of vegetables, 2000 calories, 5.5 ounces of protein, and 64 ounces of water each day.

My point is that we are a numbers and counting driven society even though that is not the recommended way to lose weight or create a “healthy” diet. Counting and recording everything has been proven to be an ineffective way to have long-term weight loss – it is just not a sustainable behavior. Instead, listening to your body and making logical decisions about what and when to eat and exercise is the best way to go. This crazy thought during my Fitbit-less walk showed me that I need to do a better job of just listening to my body and not worrying about the numbers- especially when it comes to physical activity.

Is your stomach growling? Go get something healthy to eat. Are you full? Stop eating- you don’t have to finish everything on your plate. Craving chocolate? Break a few squares off of the big bar, enjoy them, and leave the rest for later. The same goes for exercise. Sitting at a desk all day? Get up and go for a walk. Sore muscles and exhausted? Take a rest day. Feeling unmotivated? Remember that exercise will make you feel better so go get it done!

Your body knows exactly what it needs, you just have to learn how to listen and understand the cues it gives you. I know it isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes time and work to be “on the same page” as your body. Setting number driven goals (like 10,000 steps per day) might be beneficial to working towards a target weight or activity level, but in the end, it is all about how you feel. Whether you meet those goals or not, if you aren’t feeling good all the calories and steps you counted don’t mean anything. You should always try to feel healthy, not hungry, tired, or deprived.

Dietetic Internship Search Update
The beginning of senior year means the hunt and application process for a Dietetic Internship (DI) has begun. A DI is a 1200-hour supervised practice program a student must go through to in order to sit for a board exam to become a Registered Dietitian (read more about the process here). I am looking at DI’s that have a master’s degree program combined, so that narrows down my options but there are still lots to choose from.

Step one in applying to any of these programs is taking the GRE (Graduate Records Exam), which I just took in August. I got my scores this week and thankfully I did well enough that I don’t need to take it again!

The next steps are figuring out exactly where I am going to apply and starting my personal statement. Stay tuned for more DI updates 🙂

Just because I am a nutrition student doesn’t mean I…

Wow, I am officially a senior in college! I just took my last final exam yesterday and now it is crazy to believe I only have one more year of undergrad. After spending the past three years learning all about the body and food, I have discovered that there are many misconceptions about (aspiring) dietitians. I thought I would share some with you that you might find surprising.

Just because I am a nutrition student doesn’t mean I…

  1. …Judge the foods you eat. Countless times I have been to restaurants with family and friends and they always feel obligated to give an excuse for why they ordered a burger and fries. I can’t tell you the number of time I have heard, “I have eaten very healthy all week” or “I’m starting to eat healthy on Monday”. This may be a shock, but you don’t need to qualify your dinner order, and I promise I am not judging you. I like burgers and fries just as much as you do; it is human nature to crave high calorie foods. We all have to make choices when it comes to what we eat, but without knowing your health or lifestyle goals, it is not possible or fair for me to judge your personal choices.
  1. …Don’t eat unhealthy food. Again, I crave chocolate chip cookies just as much as anyone else, and I eat more than just grilled chicken and vegetables. Just because I am interested in nutrition doesn’t mean I am not allowed to have pizza or dessert. You probably know just as well as I do that cookies are not so healthy. Fortunately, I have also learned about the importance of moderation and that cookie should be saved for special occasions.
  1. …Just help people lose weight. Yes, as a nutrition student, I am taught the importance of a healthy, balanced diet to promote healthy weight, but as a dietitian, that is only a small slice of the job. Majority of dietitians work in hospitals doing anything from creating diet plans to prevent cancer proliferation to determining energy needs of a premature baby with a feeding tube. People often forget that dietetics do so much more than just help people lose weight.

Study Abroad Update

I know I haven’t done the best job of keeping you up to date on my adventures, but that’s because I’ve been busy with all my adventures :). As my grandma says (hi Grandma!), this semester should have been called “Travel Abroad” instead of “Study Abroad”. While my actually classes may not have been difficult at all, there is no doubt that spending time in 21 cities in 10 different countries has taught me so much about cultures around the world. I have learned more European history than I ever learned in a classroom, and I have been able to learn about health and food from a completely new perspective. This experience has inspired me to write my senior thesis about the difference in food processing and manufacturing between the United States and European Union and how the different practices effect our health.

As I spend my last three days in Copenhagen saying goodbye to some amazing friends, having final family dinners with my host family, and spending my last few Danish Kroner in souvenir shops, I know that I will always look back on these four months as one of the best times of my life.

BUT! While the semester may be over, I still have another two weeks of traveling before heading back home. One final trip through Morocco and Spain before I’m back for a busy summer of volunteering, studying for the GRE, and trying to remember how to be an American again.